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Things Learned At: Mono Festival 2013
JR Moores , October 18th, 2013 06:46

Something's in the air up north, and it's vaguely incense-scented. JR Moores grabs his psych-ometer and takes some measurements at last month's one-dayer in Leeds

We are experiencing the Great Northern Psych Renaissance

This merry psych-rock fiesta comes just a day after Liverpool’s International Festival Of Psychedelia. Several bands on the Mono line-up come from the North. Local heroes Hookworms return to their spiritual home of Leeds’ Brudenell Social Club after six months or so of unpredictable critical acclaim. They’re joined by vigorous Liverpudlian instrumentalists Mugstar, batty Manchester collective Gnod and fellow Mancunians Kult Country. This bunch signals only the tip of the tie-dyed North-psych iceberg. Why is this Northern psych-iness suddenly blossoming? Are some fabulous acid batches being produced and distributed from a secret lab under the Pennines by a Walter White-type fella wearing a flatcap instead of the porkpie "Heisenberg" hat? I wouldn’t know about that. Besides, Hookworms claim to prefer chocolate Hobnobs to harder substances. I suspect Gnod indulge in a more potent and hallucinatory brand of mind-bending biscuit but clearly the trend can’t be explained through narcotics alone. Is it a reaction against the Britpop years’ over-masculine gakked-up, Loaded-ogling take on the sounds of the Sixties? Or a horrified response to stumbling upon the repulsive indie landfill of the post-Britpop years? Or simply a radically out-there retort to the reprehensibly dull likes of Marcus f*ing Mumford? Is it political? An unintended consequence of the banally evil coalition government led by David “I listen to The Jam, me” Cameron? Is technology a factor, with psychedelia’s drawn-out jams providing a refreshing alternative to the succinct, brash, instant hits of snappy entertainment “content” displayed on the glowing gadgets that we spend every spare moment drooling at and giggling? Or technology in a more positive sense, offering a range of more adventurous choices unlike when we were being continuously bludgeoned by the industry and the media until everybody in the country felt compelled to own at least one copy of Jagged Little Pill?

Admittedly, the psychedelic renaissance stretches far wider than the North of England. We’re also joined today by Brighton-based Cold Pumas and two of their offshoot projects (Soft Walls and Tense Men) and London’s Sauna Youth. Lorelle Meets The Obsolete are Mexican and the California massive are represented by White Manna and Carlton Melton. One 'Melton member compliments this unusually sweltering late-September Sunday: "Lovely weather!" Here’s a theory: along with the melting of the cryosphere, the acidification of the oceans and the damage and loss of established ecosystems, global warming is also producing an escalation in psychedelic rock output. We are all Californians now. We might suffer devastating crop failures, be subject to increased volcanic activity, witness the extinction of the final polar bear, but, hey, at least we can ride out to that newly-formed bone-dry desert over there and have a jolly good sundrenched six-day jam session!

Psychedelia is difficult to define

Every band on this bill fits the “psychedelic” category. But for all the throbbing, repetitive bass parts and wobbling reverb, there’s a noticeably wide breadth of sonic variety. Three-piece Tense Men kick things off with their spiky post-punk approach. They might be what would’ve happened if New Order had never made any money and couldn’t afford to fly to Ibiza (by which I mean the singer/guitarist wears his guitar kinda high). Soft Walls are politer, dreamier, more incense-scented (though they do get heavier as their set progresses). Kult Country are more sprightly, euphoric and cleaner with high-toned Cure-ish guitar shimmers. They could soundtrack Match Of The Day’s 'Goal of the Month' segment in a way that crusty oddballs Gnod simply couldn’t. Mugstar put the FUN into "post-rock should be more fun". Two satanic-looking giants are the rhythm section to a highly exuberant chappie of much smaller stature who pulls the kind of bouncing rockstar shapes that chief Muse anus Matthew Bellamy might think a wee bit over the top. It’s an exhaustingly powerful set of full-on, epic, instrumental intensity. Carlton Melton ease in with lengthy galactic noodling before launching into a thundering segment reminiscent of the 'Immigrant Song' without that castrato lion wailing over the top and end with an ace, spacey drone piece. Hookworms do their swirly, pounding Hookworms thang. I’m still not completely sold on the necessity of the vocals (they can be a bit like Bobby Gillespie's minus the pink suit and charisma) but their album tracks prove even better live.

At one point I thought I had it nailed: psychedelia means you must put an echoed effect on your singer’s vocals. But ‘Melton and Mugstar don’t really have any vocals and the voice of Cold Puma’s singing drummer remained undistorted. The other commonality between groups was a preference - to lesser or greater extent - for segments of vague shapelessness or room for improvisation or feedback manipulation. Which seems to have amused/frustrated the following gentleman plankhead...

The drunk bloke that shouts out “1, 2, 3, 4!” during every band’s proggy/droney first song can sod right off

You know the type. Tall. Middle aged. Balding on top. Wears a pale blue shirt over his t-shirt. Has a pint sloshing about in his unsteady hand. Thinks he’s a laugh. Thinks his mates think he’s a laugh (even though they never chuckle as heartily at his jokes as he does himself). He’s decided it’s hilarious to shout “1, 2, 3, 4!” at every band. He thinks he’s satirising all their heady/proggy/droney intro jams. Or thinks he’s encouraging them, Monty Python And The Holy Grail-style to GET ON WITH IT. It’s not funny the first time but he perseveres nonetheless. If he wants conventional “1, 2, 3, 4 woah-woah” rock & roll he’s at the wrong event. He can sod off and see the Rolling Stones for 3,000 groats a ticket.

Sometimes we’d all like to be Voltaire or Martin Luther or Joey Ramone or that bloke who threw a sausage at Morrissey. But seriously, mate, you’re about as funny as a makeshift nerve gas hospital. Sod off.

Lorelle Meets The Obsolete absolutely rock

Better to look past their slightly clunky name and embrace the wonders of these trippy Mexican rockers. Three geeky-looking fellas accompany the cool-as-a-refrigerated-cucumber singer/guitarist Lorena "Lorelle" Quintanilla. Their bass sound is one of the meatiest of the night and is complemented by blistering, raggedy guitars spewing so much attitude they seem to be writing swear words on the wall in chewing gum. Their rock ‘n’ roll licks can be a little generic here and there, but they sound so huge at times (much weightier than on record) that they intermittently resemble a younger, faster Bardo Pond. The long grey-haired and grey-bearded, plaid-shirted drummer dude from Carlton Melton stands at the front, nodding along approvingly, so they must be doing something right. Frankly, they’re the tastiest thing to come out of Mexico since [insert offensive reference to a popular Mexican delicacy here].

Please refrain from setting up your equipment “on the floor”

...because you’re not Lightning Bolt and this isn’t 2004. The otherwise-wonderful Brudenell venue seems to tolerate this kind of behaviour all too regularly. Gnod are the culprits tonight and it’s the first error in what turns out to be a damp squib of a set. Granted, it’s frustrating that there’s nothing truly socialist about rock & roll because as soon as you put yourself on a stage you cast yourself as a Nietzschean superbeing, literally above and apart from the ticket-purchasing proles. I understand that. Performing off-stage, in the sticky-floored pig-pen of the sweating swinish multitude doesn’t solve matters though. Now only the very front row of punters can see anything in this small, cramped space (along with anyone who’s managed to fight their way to a decent position on any available steps or other elevated area). Everybody else spends the whole set staring at the back of somebody else’s perspiring neck wondering what the hell is going on. I suspect the sound-desk’s chief knob-twiddler can’t see too because Gnod’s levels are well dodgy and the vocals are largely inaudible. If you could actually hear Neil Francis screaming, yelping and chanting while he thrusts his hands in the air, collapses to his knees, leaps up again, and bounds around like a sozzled, Tigger-ish evil preacher man, that would be great. When he’s muted, if you can actually catch a glimpse of him, he looks a tad silly. What’s worse is that the plentiful gang of freakoids backing him collectively sound like a slightly sinister metronome failing to get any spookier. The bass isn’t up to Gnod’s usual clobbering heaviness. There’s no drumkit. The crowd thins. "They’ve got more superfluous members than Slipknot," concludes my unimpressed Yorkshire companion. What makes the bloody-minded self-defeating floor set-up even worse is that all the bands billed in the adjacent room are forced to perform on the floor because there is no stage in there. We could have stuck Gnod in there, swapping them with Carlton Melton or Sauna Youth or somebody who’d make a decent, appreciative use of the Concert Room’s raised stage. Maybe I wasn’t standing close enough but it’s (G)not their finest moment. They were still a psychedelic experience though. Whatever that means.